hard rock

#947: Last Of Our Kind

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 80:  The Darkness

 

RECORD STORE TALES #947: Last Of Our Kind

By the time that I decided “enough with the bullshit” and quit the Record Store at the end of 2005, The Darkness were truly one of my favourite bands.

The band’s newest album One Way Ticket To Hell…and Back was really resonating with me.  It was the kind of triumphant rock that felt appropriate as I started my new life, post-store.  Uplifting.  Carefree.  Nostalgic.  I had a Darkness shirt with their logo in silver scroll.  I was downloading rare live tracks from Limewire and buying imported singles.  All the stuff that properly qualifies a person as a “fan”, but with the additional emotional kick that this was “my” band.  I didn’t know anyone else who liked them.  Well, there was one.  I had just met Jen, my future wife.  In her CD collection was a copy of Permission to Land.

Two weeks after quitting the store I was back in the workforce.  I had what I wanted:  a boring job!  There were several days straight of just make photocopies.  Nobody to talk to, and with the clanky-clank of the copying drowning me out, I passed the time by singing.  Specifically, I sang my favourite Darkness tunes.

The most attractive tunes have the biggest and most bombastic choruses it seems.  Huge drum fills, big multi-layered vocals, and all the trimmings.  Songs like “Dinner Lady Arms”.

I used to be able to come close to hitting the notes. Just approximating the correct intonation, because who the fuck cared? Nobody could hear me.

Also on the playlist:  “Hazel Eyes”, “One Way Ticket”, “Growing On Me”, “Givin’ Up”, and “Friday Night”.

I made a Darkness “Greatest Hits” CD with all those tracks, a bunch of great B-sides, and couple bootleg live tracks.  The best of which was a ragged live take of “Givin’ Up”, sadly now lost.  That’s the problem with downloads.  In the golden glow of memory, it was the best version of the song ever!

Sadly, the Darkness were hitting a rough patch.  Justin Hawkins went to rehab to clean up, and then quit the band afterwards.  In shock, the band looked inward to new bassist Richie Edwards (who replaced original Frankie Poullain).  His surprisingly powerful rasp was perfect for a new start.  They reconfigured themselves as the heavier Stone Gods, while Justin launched his new band Hot Leg.  In this battle, Hot Leg sounded more like the Darkness, while the Stone Gods had a stronger album in hand.

Lineup changes continued to ensue.  Original Darkness drummer Ed Graham left the Stone Gods due to ill health, and was replaced by Robin Goodridge, formerly of Bush.  This left guitarist Dan Hawkins as the only Stone Gods member that had been in the Darkness.  Regardless, they managed to record a second, more stripped down album.  This second album was never released, because suddenly in 2011, the original lineup of the Darkness was back!

The comeback album Hot Cakes returned the band to their classic sound.  Most importantly, it was only the first in a series of great albums, the best of which might be 2015’s Last of Our Kind. The title track of which is the most quintessentially “Darkness” of any song they have released since their debut.  The music video features Justin Hawkins at his most Freddie, and a new drummer:  Rufus Tiger Taylor, son of Queen’s Roger.  Talk about rock royalty!

Not to ignore the important contributions of Emily Dolan Davies, who played drums on the album and in the music video for “Open Fire”.  As an in-demand session drummer, Davies was praised by Justin as having “revitalized” the band with her hard-hitting style.  Since her departure, Rufus has held down the drum stool on Pinewood Smile, Easter is Cancelled and the forthcoming Motorheart.

That’s right.  The Darkness have a new album coming.  They may or may not have doomed us to a long pandemic with the prophetic Easter is Cancelled, but they sure are going to rock us anyway.

Long live The Darkness!

VIDEO: Max the Axe – Oktoberfest Cheer (2021)

Today is the last day for Oktoberfest…but “Oktoberfest Cheer” goes on and on!

From the new EP Oktoberbest Cheer, written by Mike Koutis, here is the video for “Oktoberfest Cheer”.  Have a schnitzel on a bun and a frosty cold one, and get your copy at Encore Records in Kitchener, or by dropping us a line here.

  • Mike Koutis – guitar
  • Eric Litwiller – lead vocals
  • Mike Mitchell – bass
  • Dr. Dave Haslam – drums

 

  • Accordion by Catherine Thompson

 


Notes:  Since Eric deleted the only rehearsal footage of “Oktoberfest Cheer”, I was forced to use the video for “Randy” live at the Boathouse somewhat ham-fistedly.  However this works perfect with the punky off-the-rails nature of the song.  Speeding things up and slowing things down hides a multitude of sins in the edit, and the Keystone Cops flavour of the high-speed footage lends a comedic profile to the video.  Which is necessary for any song that contains lyrics like “don’t crush my smokes, don’t spill my beer.”

#942: My Brushes With Metallica

RECORD STORE TALES #942: My Brushes With Metallica

I don’t mind admitting that my first Metallica was Load.  Yeah, I was one of them.  Hate on if you gotta.

Like many my age, the first exposure came in 1988 via their first music video:  “One”.  To say the visuals were disturbing would be accurate.  Although I did enjoy the song, I didn’t feel the need to hit “record” on my VCR when it come on.  Other kids at school sure liked it, and copies of Johnny Got His Gun were claimed to have been read by some of them.  I figured I could continue to live without Metallica.

The Black album was released in 1991.  I was watching live when Lars Ulrich called in to the Pepsi Power Hour to debut the new music video for “Enter Sandman”.  The new, streamlined and uber-produced Metallica looked and sounded good to me.  I loved when James said “BOOM!” and thought that hooking up with Bob Rock had worked out brilliantly.  The sonics were outstanding.  While I enjoyed the singles Metallica released through the next couple years, I never took a dive and bought the album.  Why?

Three main reasons.  The key one was that I knew, even before I knew I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, that I would feel compelled to collect all the Metallica singles that I had missed over the years.  That was, as yet, a bridge too far.  Second reason was that I satisfied my craving for that style of Metallica in 1992 when Testament came out with The Ritual.  It had a track like “Sandman” called “Electric Crown”.  It had a song like “Sad But True” called “So Many Lies”.  It was perfect for my needs.  Thirdly, for whatever reason I didn’t think I was going to enjoy “old” Metallica, which again, I would feel compelled to collect.

When I started working at the Record Store in 1994, I had the night shifts alone.  I could play whatever I wanted and sometimes I gave Metallica a spin.  I can remember “Enter Sandman” coming on while I was cleaning, and saying to a customer, “Man I love this song!”  He nodded awkwardly and wondered why I was telling him.

A bit later I was hanging out with this guy Chris.  He was extolling the virtues of thrash metal, and put on Kill ‘Em All.  I was astonished when “Blitzkrieg” came on.  “I know this song!  I love this song!”  I exclaimed as I jumped up.  Air guitar in hand, I started bangin’ to the riff.  “This is a song by Blitzkrieg,” I explained to Chris.  “It’s on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal CD that Lars Ulrich produced.  I didn’t know he covered it.”

This is the point at which I like to say I became a Metallica fan.  Collecting the older stuff was still daunting, and a lot of it was expensive because it was out of print.  Which is really why it took Load for me to finally buy a Metallica CD.

1996 was a glorious but so stressing summer!  I was managing my own Record Store for the first time.  The weather was gorgeous.  The stock we had was incredible.  The stress came from staff, which turned over faster than a dog begging for belly rubs!  There was “Sally” who was caught paying herself excessive amounts of cash for the used CDs she was selling to the store.  There was The Boy Who Killed Pink Floyd who came to work hungover and worse.  And, most trying of all, music sucked for people like me who missed the great rock of the 70s and 80s.

On June 4, Metallica released Load to great anticipation.  Their new short-haired look (a Lars and Kirk innovation) turned heads and it was said that Metallica had abandoned metal and gone alternative.  Of course this was stretching the truth a tad.  Metallica had certainly abandoned thrash metal on Load, and arguably earlier.  Alternative?  Only in appearance (particularly Kirk Hammett with eye makeup and new labret piercing).

Load was the kind of rock I liked.  The kind of rock I missed through the recent alterna-years.  I had been buying Oasis CDs just to get some kind of new rock in my ears.  Finally here comes Metallica, with the exact kind of music that I liked, and at the exact time I needed it.

And yes, I did immediately start collecting the rarities and back catalogue.  Garage Days and Kill ‘Em All (with “Blitzkrieg” and “Am I Evil?”) were both out of print at that time.  I snapped up the first copies I could get my hands on, when they came in used inventory.  We were selling them for $25 each, no discount.  I later found a copy of a “Sad But True” single featuring the coveted “So What” at Encore Records for $20.  The new Load singles were added to my collection upon release.  The truth is, I picked the best possible time to get into Metallica collecting:  when I was managing my own used CD store!  I soon had the “Creeping Death” / “Jump In the Fire” CD.  A Japanese import “One” CD single only cemented what a lucky bastard I was to be working there.

Because Metallica came to me relatively later in life, today they never provoke the kind of golden memories that Kiss or Iron Maiden do.  However the summer of ’96 was defined by Metallica.  Driving the car, buddy T-Rev next to me, playing drums on his lap.  His hands and thighs got sore from playing car-drums so hard.  Load was our album of the summer and it sounded brilliant in the car.  Hate if you hafta, but that’s the way it went down for this guy in the dreary 90s.

 

VIDEO: Max the Axe – “Pygmy Blowdart” – vertical video performance !

“Pygmy Blowdart” (2021 Koutis)

  • Mike Koutis – Guitar
  • Eric Litwiller – Lead Vocals
  • Mike Mitchell – Bass
  • Dr. Dave Haslam – Drums

From the brand new EP Oktoberfest Cheer.

VIDEO: Last Summer Weekend at the Lake 2021 / Max the Axe – “Pygmy Blowdart”

Now that the new Max the Axe EP, Oktoberfest Cheer, has been released, I am happy to present to you their new never-before-heard original “Pygmy Blowdart”.  Lead singer Eric Litwiller stressed to me (more than once) “I did not write the lyrics”.

Video footage was taken the last weekend of August, but held on to until I could use some fresh new Max music.  Check out “Pygmy Blowdart” and let Max and Meat know what you think of this new tune in the comments below!

 

Available at Encore Records.

REVIEW: Leatherwolf – Street Ready (1989 Japanese import)

LEATHERWOLF – Street Ready (1989 Island/Polystar Japan)

Leatherwolf progressed in just three albums from an unremarkable thrash band to a melodic, heavy rock quintet with a knack for a hook.  They also had a gimmick: the “Triple Axe Attack”.  Unlike most bands of the time, Leatherwolf boasted three guitarists.  Geoff Gayer and Carey Howe handled the leads while singer Michael Olivieri played the rhythm.  Their first album was just OK, but on their second they signed to a major label and had some decent production.  They also wrote better tunes, and embellished their sound with keyboards and ballads.

By the third, their songwriting chops had really grown.  In the end, this album is less heavy than the first two; a little more straightforward. It still retains thrash metal aspects mixed with ballads, but on the whole this album is more middle of the road.  Track for track, it’s free of filler and each song has some kind of memorable hook that makes return visits a pleasure.

Traditional metal guitar harmonies and thrashing chords blend on the opener “Wicked Ways”, which careens from slow to fast and back again.  Focus is solidly on the guitars, though Michael Olivieri certainly blows all the fuses on lead vocals.  A great melding of styles, like an 80s Iron Maiden song fueled by nuclear fusion.

For a song called “Street Ready”, a dirty groove is most appropriate.  That’s where Leatherwolf take this nasty little tune with bite.  The riff recalls their single “The Calling” from the previous album.  But the first single this time was the balladesque “Hideaway”. A power ballad with the emphasis on power.  Singer Michael Olivieri had a great range and plenty of lung capacity.  A ballad with bite.

Back to heavy, “Take A Chance” is quite thrash, but faster than the mainstream.  The choppy riff could have come from an early Scorpions album, when they had sting.  Keeping the pace is “Black Knight”, an instrumental thrash rocker with amazing drumming courtesy of Dean “Drum Machine” Roberts.  Faster and heavier than anything since their debut.

Back when albums had sides, side two opened with a big powerful anthem, a roll of bass, and earthshaking chorus.  “I am the thunder that starts the rain.”  This song must have been a killer live.  Slow in pace, but the weight comes from that heavy anthemic feeling, defying the storm.

A second ballad “The Way I Feel” is soft by comparison, but doesn’t lack backbone.  Comparable to “Share A Dream” from the last album. Not for everyone — thrash metal people should certainly avoid.  Everyone else will enjoy its melodic power.  Speaking of power, back in that direction is the ragged “Too Much”, careening off the rails at top acceleration.

“Lonely Road” takes us back to huge anthem territory, like “Thunder”, but faster.  A soft keyboard intro is deceptive.  This ain’t no ballad.  This is a banger; you have to let it get going.  They go full-on for closer “Spirits In The Wind”.  Great tune with lots of metal guitar thrills.

In Japan however that wasn’t the closer.  A bonus track “Alone in the Night” is tacked on for added value.  This originated on the 1988 Return of the Living Dead Part II soundtrack (which also featured Zodiac Mindwarp and two Anthrax tunes).  It has a thinner sound to it, indicating it came from a separate recording session.  Not one of Leatherwolf’s better songs, but not a throwaway either.  Just not as memorable, but a valuable addition.

Song for song, Street Ready is the best Leatherwolf album.  Metal bands just don’t try to sound like this anymore.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Danko Jones – Power Trio (2021)

DANKO JONES – Power Trio (2021 Sonic Unyon)

Let me tell you something’ people.  Danko Jones?  He’s the real deal and he’s back with Power Trio, an absolutely smokin’ new album heavy on the riffs and attitude.

Something about this pandemic has been driving our favourite artists to create some of their best work.  From Lee Aaron to Styx and Iron Maiden, we’ve been getting a lot of seriously great albums this summer.  Danko Jones joins their ranks with 11 of his best tunes to date.

“I Want Out” is relentless hammering with nothin’ but pure soulful metal aggression.  He gets a little sly on “Good Lookin'” before the pounding of the mighty axe resumes.  Great guitar and vocal hooks.  “Saturday” brings the party with no less adrenaline or acceleration.  Let’s use that word “relentless” again.  Power Trio is an album with the emphasis on power.  The band take it down to a mid-tempo slammer on “Ship of Lies”.  “Everybody knows it’s getting old, let’s sink this ship of lies.”  Amen, brother!  Great jagged riff, chunky tone.

Potential album highlight “Raise Some Hell” sounds like an anthem for bands sidelined by the pandemic.  “I’m tired of watchin’ it go by, sittin’ in the fence,” sings Jones as he looks forward to getting back out there for some rockin’.  “‘Cause sooner or later we’re gonna break the spell.”

“Blue Jean Denim Jumpsuit” has the best title on the record, but does this thing ever move!  The riff is like an engine.  The guitars on “Get To You” take on a more traditional metallic tone, though the song maintains the Power Trio drive.  “Don’t you let them get to you,” preaches the man; someone who knows.  “Jealousy don’t look good on ’em,” he roars.  “Take it as a backhand compliment, every time they take the shots.  Every sling that gets thrown at you only serves to drive up your stock.”  Wise words my man.  Just as Dee Snider took on bullies in the 80s, Danko is here to continue the work in the 2020s.

“Dangerous Kiss” has bite, as it clocks in as the shortest bomber on the album.  Second shortest is “Let’s Rock Together”, a real upbeat corker of a stomp.  Like classic Andrew W.K. but with a guy who can really sing.  The screamin’ “Flaunt It” turns up the tempo even faster, taking it to punk rock velocity.  This serves to set up the optimistic AC/DC-like closer “Start the Show”.  Yes, let’s!  Special guest Phil Campbell on guitar.

There have been several albums this year that were deemed to be the records we needed in 2021.  Add another worthy contender to the list.  Power Trio is another in a long line of consistently good Danko Jones.  The biggest difference is that we need Danko more than ever now.

4.5/5 stars

Power trio:  Danko Jones, Rich Knox, John Calabrese.


BONUS ==>  Misheard Lyrics

“I’m tired of watching it go by sittin’ on the fence,” totally sounds like “I’m tired of watching Nickelback sittin’ on the fence”!

REVIEW: Max the Axe – Oktoberfest Cheer (2021 EP)

MAX THE AXE – Oktoberfest Cheer (2021 EP)

Pandemics suck, but last year Max the Axe began working on a remedy.  Three new songs — one cover, two originals — and a new EP called Oktoberfest Cheer!  With this year’s Bavarian festival just around the corner, Max is ready to rock your beerhallen.  It’s the second release with the same lineup:  Mike Koutis (Max the Axe) – lead guitar, Eric Litwiller (Uncle Meat) – lead vocals, Mike Mitchell – lead bass and Dr. Dave Haslam — lead drums.  It’s a much more punk rock affair than the last album Status Electric.  Perhaps it’s even a concept record about intoxication!

Opening with the original “Pygmy Blow Dart”, Max sounds like Queens of the Stone Age jonesing for a smoke.  Litwiller is in full Homme mode with the groove of the Axe behind him.  “I think I’m going downtown, looking for some dope.”  Ah, the quaint pre-legalization setting!  By the end, the band is in a singalong, looking for some smoke.  “Round and round, and round and round…”  Hey guys…check the local dispensary!  There’s one on every corner now.  Great bass solo in the middle, right before Max rips on the six string.  Fans of the last album will love it.

The Black Flag cover “Thirsty and Miserable” is outstanding, full-on punkfied Max.  Definitely some influence from Lemmy’s version of “Thirsty and Miserable” too.  This track kicks and Litwiller sounds legit.  They could play it two or three times in a row and you wouldn’t get bored.

Finally the punk-inflected EP ends with the title track “Oktoberfest Cheer!”, a song destined to be a seasonal hit.  Feather in cap, beer on tap…October is here so raise up that beer!  You can picture the festhallen going mad for this October anthem.  This is the clear hit, frantic and haggard as it may be.  Adorned with festive accordion, it’s punk rock unlike any other.  You can play it year after year…or in August.  Don’t crush my smokes, don’t spill my beer!

The great thing about this EP is that it’s under 10 minutes in true punk fashion and perfect for repeat plays.

Kitchener knows.

5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Slash’s Snakepit – It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (1995)

SLASH’S SNAKEPIT – It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (1995 Geffen)

Somewhere in the multiverse is an alternate reality where Axl Rose did not reject Slash’s songs for the next Guns album.  In that version of history, the new Guns N’ Roses was not titled Chinese Democracy; perhaps it was called Back and Forth Again.  And it would have sounded a lot like It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, the debut album by Slash’s Snakepit that we received in our reality’s year 1995.

As it went down, Axl said “no” to the songs Slash had finished, so Slash put them out as his first solo album.  And then Axl wanted them back.  In 1994, on the VHS The Making of Estranged: Part 4 of Trilogy, you can hear Guns working on one of these songs.  In the background, the music that would eventually become Slash’s “Back and Forth Again” is playing with Axl whistling overtop.  In the alternate reality, somebody’s listening to it right now as a Guns N’ Roses song.  In ours, it will only be Slash’s Snakepit.

Although Slash was enthused about his new music, and was eager to make a raw bluesy rock n’ roll album, Axl had other plans.  Who was right in the end?  It’s hard not to see Axl’s point of view.  Slash’s 14 songs had just one hit and 13 fillers.  Most of the best GN’R tracks were not written by Slash; they were written by Izzy Stradlin.  Left to his own devices, Slash’s batch of songs here lack memorable hooks.

Let’s start on a positive note at least — the lead single “Beggars & Hangers-On”.  Written by Slash n’ Duff with lead singer Eric Dover, this is a song that any band from Skynyrd to the Crowes to Zeppelin to Guns N’ Roses would have been proud to play.  Check out that riff — it’s as regal as the blues gets.   Powerful and soulful aching vocals from Dover.  The chorus roars, bright and bold, and you could only imagine what Axl could have done with it.  Matt Sorum’s drums splash at all the right moments, in his trademark fashion.  It’s a damn perfect song.  And it made people really excited for the album that was to come, Guns or no Guns.

Well, there were some Guns.  Slash had been working with Matt Sorum and the recently fired Gilby Clarke.  On bass was Mike Inez from Alice in Chains.  Though not in the Snakepit lineup, Slash also imported Dizzy Reed and Ted “Zig Zag” Andreadis from GN’R.  With those players, it sure sounded like Guns.  Only Dover really differentiates them.  Dover…and the songs.

There are fragments of brilliance through the whole record.  The acoustic intro to “Neither Can I” for example.  The circular snaky riff to the manic “Be the Ball” (not to mention Slash’s lyrics, which seem to be his personal life philosophy).  The boogie-woogie of instrumental “Jizz Da Pit”.  The wicked Inez bass on on Gilby Clarke’s “Monkey Chow”.  The Aerosmith vibe to “I Hate Everybody (But You)”.

And it’s a long album.  70 minutes of solid rock without a lot of variation.  Which is one reason why Slash’s 14 songs wouldn’t have cut it for Guns in 1995.  Appetite for Destruction had a variety of different songs on it, even if all shared a go-for-the-throat ferocity.  Slash did get the straightforward live sounding rock album he desired.  The guitars sound absolutely thick and offer a hint of what Slash and Gilby would have sounded like together on an original Guns studio album (like naturals).

It’s just a damn shame Slash’s solo debut is so disappointing.  It bears witness that Axl might not have been wrong.  You could make a hell of a GN’R album* out of the best tracks its members came up with.  But this isn’t it.

2/5 stars

* Alternate 1995 Chinese Democracy:

  1. Chinese Democracy (GN’R)
  2. Beggars and Hangers-On (Slash)
  3. Better (GN’R)
  4. Dead Flowers (Gilby/Axl – Stones cover)
  5. I.R.S. (GN’R)
  6. Street of Dreams (GN’R)
  7. Tijuana Jail (Gilby/Slash/Matt)
  8. Madagascar (GN’R)
  9. Absurd (GN’R)
  10. Six Feet Under (Duff/Matt – Neurotic Outsiders)
  11. This I Love (GN’R)
  12. Back and Forth Again (Slash)

REVIEW: Metallica – Enter Sandman (Remastered 2021 German CD singles)

METALLICA – “Enter Sandman” (Remastered 2021 German CD singles – 5″ Maxi CD and 3″ Pockit-CD)

The Black Album box set is coming!  Batten down your wallet because it looks absolutely incredible.  Yet on the 14 CDs and 6 DVDs, you won’t find the specific live tracks released only in Germany on the new set of “Enter Sandman” CD singles.  (There is also a glow-in-the-dark vinyl single, but it is missing the live tracks.)  All the discs maintain the style and design of Metallica’s original 1991-1992 singles.  This is an appetiser for what is to come, including two of the newly remastered Metallica tracks.  Proceeds went to German charity.

“Enter Sandman” and “Sad But True” are the two remastered studio cuts included.  The remastering sounds good and the tracks are not brickwalled.  Fans will be pleased to know that Metallica opted out of the Loudness Wars this time.  Good thumping bass, nice and prominent.  Crisp, clear, and loud enough.  “Sad But True” is really punchy.

The live tracks are all taken from Frankfurt or Stuttgart, shows not included in the box set.  The 5″ Maxi-CD and 3″ Pockit-CD each contain two exclusives.  Just like in the days of old, you have to buy both formats to get all the tracks.

“Through the Never” is one of the thrashiest songs from the Black era, and the very dry recording here is evidence of non-tampering.  Tasty wah-wah from Kirk Hammett.  “Damage, Inc.” brings thrash the old school way, Metallica as frantic as ever, barely holding it all together, but making the heads bang no matter what.  By the end it’s a total steamroller.

The teeny little 3″ CD is no less mighty.  “Of Wolf and Man” is choppy and heavy.  Hunting relentlessly like the titular wolf, Metallica are out for blood.  What’s really wild is the long jammy section at the end which contains a surprise.  Finally the Budgie cover of “Breadfan” ends the whole series of tracks with an explosive go-for-the-throat attitude.  Sloppy but foot on the gas the whole way.

What’s better than a wicked set of Metallica CD singles, including a 3″?  What could beat that?  How about if both discs were pressed in black plastic?  Would that do anything for ya?  These limited singles are sure to be collectible for their exclusive tracks and unique traits.  Try the German Amazon site for international shipping.  Contrary to a report in Bravewords, these singles do ship worldwide.

4/5 stars